FOOD TRENDS WORTH FOLLOWING
If you want to know where American food traditions are headed, look back. Many of today's healthful eating trends bear a strong resemblance to yesterday's: nearby farms offering nutritious, peak-of-season produce; slow-cooked dinners that foster leisurely family meals; an emphasis on meatless dishes and minimally processed foods.
Today, food lovers also want to know where their food comes from and how to prepare it in the simplest, most natural way possible. People still want and need to save time in the kitchen, but they are not willing to sacrifice taste and nutrition to get it.
Fortunately, these five food trends provide exactly that - flavorful, nutrient-rich meals that are easy to prepare and can help you fulfill many of your dietary requirements.
Like vegetarians, "flexitarians" eat primarily a plant-based diet composed of grains, vegetables, and fruit, but they occasionally obtain protein from lean meat, fish, poultry, or dairy. About a quarter of Americans fit this description, consuming meatless meals at least 4 days a week. Flexitarianism is exactly what dietitians, nutritional researchers and public health advocates have been recommending for years. Because the emphasis is on produce rather than protein, flexitarians are more likely than most Americans to meet the recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables and the vitamins and minerals that they contain.
Studies show that people who follow this approach to eating generally weigh less and have lower rates of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and prostate and colon cancers.
Locally Grown Foods
As people seek fresher foods, they have begun to connect with local family farms. Community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs and farmers' markets give consumers direct access to produce, meats, cheeses, breads, honey and other foods that are produced in nearby communities. In the past 10 years, the number of local farmers' markets has more than doubled. Because they are so fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables often have a nutritional edge over produce raised on "factory" farms. The latter, which constitutes most of the produce grown in the US, is picked about four to seven days before it arrives on supermarket shelves, and is shipped for an average of 1500 miles before it is sold. All that downtime takes a toll. USDA researchers have found that if it's not handled properly, produce can lose up to half its nutrients in transit. But the most important reason to buy locally: it just tastes better.
Functional foods are enriched with nutrients that may not be inherent to a given food. Familiar examples include orange juice that has been fortified with vitamins A and D. As sales of these foods soared in recent years, more functional foods have reached the market, such as eggs and pasta with omega-3 fatty acids, and high fiber, high-protein flours. These foods help people fill nutritional gaps. For example, if you are lactose-intolerant, calcium fortified orange juice can help you reach your calcium quota, especially if a glass is already part of your daily diet.
Functional foods are one helpful element in maintaining a balanced diet, not a substitute for it. But it is still best to rely on whole foods, which provide multiple nutrients. In the end, it is fine to reap added nutrients from functional food, but remember to fulfill the majority of your needs with naturally rich sources.
These are foods produced following a government-regulated practice of growing and processing that minimizes exposure to pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals used in traditional farming. Organic food is one of the country's fastest-growing market segments. Some organic foods may provide a nutritional boost. Recent review of research found that, on average, organic produce contains as much as 27 percent more vitamin C, 21 percent more iron, and 29 percent more magnesium compared to traditionally grown food. An organic stamp isn't necessarily a guarantee of nutritional quality, but it is a sure sign that the food is less adulterated. An organic cookie, for example, may have just as many calories and grams of fat as a nonorganic cookie. In the case of produce, however, choosing organic can minimize your exposure to high concentrations of pesticides and other chemicals.
Launched in Italy 20 years ago by a restaurateur, Slow Food was originally designed to protest the encroachment of fast food on the traditional Mediterranean lifestyle. The trend's principles - choosing locally grown and produced items, preparing them in traditional ways, and eating with family and friends - celebrate a relaxed approach to living that provides a welcome contrast to the fast-paced, eat-on-the-run lives many people lead. As with locally grown food, freshness is a key component of the Slow Food trend. This principle applies to whether you are making a family recipe or dining in a restaurant where the chef selects ingredients based on their seasonal availability. Family togetherness is also an important aspect of the trend. Slow Food is all about cherishing the eating experience. Healthful whole foods are a great start, but Slow Food goes a step beyond good nutrition. It is a difficult concept to quantify as there are no studies that prove friends and family make better dinner companions than the television but the benefits are clear: Slow Food embraces the psychological component in food choices, meal preparation, and the act of eating. It isn't always about what you eat but often how you eat it.